Las Cruces City Council candidates claim the city is ‘defunding the police’

In a joint statement on Tuesday, Las Cruces City Council candidates William “Bill” Beerman in the Sixth Council District and Ronnie Sisneros in the Fifth District claim the City of Las Cruces is “quietly defunding the police by keeping the starting pay rate low, while crime increases in the city, and the councilors inflate the overall city payroll.”

According to Beerman and Sisneros, on May 24, 2021, the Police Department reported to City Council that the City of Las Cruces had 52 vacancies on an authorized force of 202 sworn, commissioned officers. This caused a burden of excessive overtime on the force, Chief Miguel Dominguez said.

“Also on May 24, Police Department officials told the City Council that violent crimes per year had more than doubled from 251 in 2016 to 546 in 2020,” the candidates said in their statement. “In the first 4 months of 2021, the Police Department reported, violent crimes had increased 43 percent over the first 4 months of 2020, from 131 to 187.”

“A review of city budgets shows that City Council cut the total number of Police Department employees, sworn and not sworn, by 11 from 329 in the 2018 budget to 318 in the FY 2020 and 2021 adopted budgets, while the number of city employees went up 89 for the same period, from 1,583 to 1,672,” Beerman and Sisneros said.

While City officials have talked about increasing hiring bonuses, paying bonuses to police for Council-endorsed activities such as “building trust with the community,” and even renting houses in the city for new recruits, a noncompetitive starting salary effectively has prevented adequate recruitment, according to the candidates.

Chief Dominguez told City Council on May 17, “We have increased first year officer and cadet pay by $1 per hour and hiring bonuses have also increased from $3,000 to $4,000, but that pales in comparison to other agencies that are offering $10,000 to $20,000 to hire qualified personnel.”

“At a City Council meeting on May 24, officials said Las Cruces paid a starting hourly rate of $18.83, compared to $21.27 in Albuquerque and $22.31 in El Paso,” the candidates note.

Councilor Johanna Bencomo of the Fourth District pointed to a bar graph at the Council’s budget session on April 26, reading, “WHERE OUR MONEY GOES,” while complaining that the bar for the cost of the Police Department was by far the highest.

“You know I’ve been reflecting a lot on sort of this visual representation of what our budget looks like,” said Bencomo. “When I consider some of those really serious challenges that put a lot of our residents in very vulnerable positions when I look at this visual representation of the budget, I do not feel that it is representative of those challenges,” she continued.

The candidates quoted Bencomo: “And you know, for the police department to have such a disproportionate chunk of the budget, to me feels like we need to do some serious reflection on the creation of this budget in terms of how we are really thinking about public safety, re-thinking about public safety, and what that looks like.”

The police budget, at $27.8 million, is about 25 percent of the City’s $111.6 million general fund budget.

“For there to be a decrease in any sort of property crime, we must meet people’s needs. People must have their needs met and crime will be reduced,” Bencomo said.

Bencomo promised to “keep advocating” for the Council to address her concerns, the candidates wrote in a press release.

“Rather than take temporary measures like bonuses, City Council should permanently solve this problem by paying what is fair and necessary to ensure the city has the police officers it needs,” Beermand and Sisneros proposed. 

According to the Las Cruces Sun, Beerman said he “most recently worked nights for the Defense Intelligence Agency for eight years in the Pentagon as an editor for the nation’s morning military intelligence report.” The Sun reports that “Before that, he was director of the editorial division and a certified internal auditor for the U.S. Navy Audit Service and worked for newspapers for eight years, including a year as managing editor of the Monongahela (Pennsylvania) Daily Herald.” 

The Sun reports that Sisneros, who walked away from the Democrat Party, is a licensed occupational therapist who moved to Las Cruces 16 years ago to work for a long-term care facility. He said, “Simply, my goal is to essentially oppose all of the present city council and all of the decisions they’ve been making for as long as I’ve been here and as long as they’ve been in office.” 

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